Everything Everywhere in 4G makeover

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Everything Everywhere, the UK’s largest mobile operator by customer numbers, will drop its much-mocked corporate name for the initials EE to launch the UK’s first 4G mobile broadband network.

The group, which will use the EE brand for its new 4G service alongside its existing 3G Orange and T-Mobile businesses, will begin rolling out faster mobile services and fibre broadband next month.

Nokia’s forthcoming flagship Windows 8 phone, as well as devices from Samsung, HTC and Huawei, will run on the 4G network, which will be several times faster than existing 3G services.

The company will rebrand its 700 Orange and T-Mobile stores as EE – a move that could facilitate a long-rumoured merging of the three brands in future. The company has been dogged by questions about its branding strategy ever since T-Mobile and Orange were merged under the Everything Everywhere banner in 2010.

Olaf Swantee, chief executive, said that the company would work to differentiate the three in the UK, with EE presented as the “superfast” option. He played down the cannibalisation of brands – although he said that it would be made easy for its customers to upgrade. The rebranding had been approved by EE’s owners, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom.

EE said it would start by rolling out 4G services in 16 cities, covering 20m people by Christmas with a nationwide push in 2013. A corresponding high-speed fibre broadband service under a wholesale agreement with BT will reach more than 11m homes and businesses by the end of the year.

Mr Swantee said that superfast mobile would help to grow its corporate business, as well as boosting its ability to offer bundled home and mobile broadband. He added that companies that use EE’s network on a wholesale basis – such as Virgin Media – will also be given the chance to offer 4G services.

EE was granted regulatory approval to use existing spectrum at the 1800MHz frequency for 4G services last month, ahead of an official auction of the airwaves assigned for 4G use, expected at the end of the year.

The decision to grant a short-term monopoly on 4G caused outrage among its rivals, however, as they will have to wait to buy spectrum in the long-delayed auction before they can launch similar services. O2, in particular, has considered an attempt to halt the process.

The FT revealed on Monday that the government had stepped in to force a legal “ceasefire”, following concerns that the industry could be mired in litigation to stop EE from gaining an advantage. The four operators have signed a standstill agreement for a month, which means EE will not be able to launch its services until October at the earliest.

Even so, this will give EE time to make sure its network is functioning. Four cities – London, Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham – will be initially connected for testing and systems integration.

FT Comment

Everything Everywhere has become Nothing Nowhere, as many wags had predicted. But its success will be measured in network quality rather than this latest marketing wheeze. And, here, EE will have a clear head start on rivals with superfast 4G services – a key mobile advance that will push up consumer margins, bolster its corporate business and allow bundled mobile and fixed tariffs. There is little wonder its rivals are angry.

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